One of the most spectacular temples in Egypt, the stunning Temple of Kalabsha was one of a handful of ancient monuments threatened to be completely flooded due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam. To prevent this from happening and keep the site open for the world’s tourists, the Egyptian Government put in a lot of effort and spending to save it from being completely flooded back in the 1960s. However, although it is quite impressive and historically significant, it is considered an off the beaten path visit as it is less known than other neighboring temples and monuments. It receives less tourists, meaning there are less crowds when visiting, making it an opportune chance to take an intimate and private tour of one of Ancient Egypt’s temples.
It is quite different from other temples and Ancient Egyptian history buffs should definitely consider paying it a visit to learn about the hidden magic of this historic gem. The temple was built to worship the Nubian solar god known as Mandulis by the Greeks and Merwel by the Romans. Much like a number of temples and ancient monuments, it was later transformed into a church for Christian worship. This was a common practice for ancient monuments in Egypt, with many being transformed into places of worship depending on the current reigning power.
The temple is not as old as others around it. Construction began during the Ptolemaic period and the structure was completed between 30BC and 14 AD during the reign of Augustus. The temple was built initially south of the ancient city of Talmis, which sprawled over both beds of the Nile River at a critical spot where the great river narrowed down. Due to this unique geographical phenomena, the area was thus named the Gate of Kalabsha. The temple’s name is actually rooted in the XVIII dynasty as a reference to kings Amenhotep II and Tuthmosis III. To honor these two kings, Amenhotep II is portrayed in the pillared hall and Tuthmosis III is symbolized by a black granite statue nearby the Nile river bank.
Following the reign of Augustus, numerous emperors made additional renovations and expansions to the temple, including the likes of Caligula (37-41 AD) and Trajanus (98 – 117 AD). When the Aswan High Dam project was in full swing, officials realized that many of the temples that exist along the Nile would be completely submerged by the flooding waters of the manmade lake Nasser. The Egyptian government partnered up with UNESCO and some European nations to relocate some of those temples to new locations where they would be out of the way of the eventual flooding. Amongst these temples were Abu Simbel and the Temple of Philae and of course, the Temple of Kalabsha. It is currently set in its new location just south of the High Dam along the west bank of Lake Nasser in Aswan, making it easily accessible to anyone visiting the ancient, touristic city.
Since the German government assisted in the relocation of the Temple of Kalabsha, the Egyptian government decided to gift Germany the temple’s original exterior stone gateway as a token of appreciation. In fact, the gateway is still on display in Berlin’s Egyptian Museum.
The temple measures in at 22 meters wide and 76 meters long. The beautiful structure is brimming with storytelling inscriptions all over its walls that depict the names of a handful of pharaohs and emperors as well as portrayals of some ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses.
There is also a breathtaking stone walkway that connects a nearby lake to the first pylon that lead into a colonnaded court and a Hypostyle Hall with eight columns. Although only eight columns remain today, the Hypostyle Hall originally had fourteen. The temple includes a sanctuary with three separate chambers, one of featuring a set of stairs that lead up a striking roof with a breathtaking view of Lake Nasser.
On the southern side of the temple, visitors will find a well-preserved Nile-o-Meter, which was utilized during ancient times to measure and keep track of the rise of the Nile’s annual flooding. This flooding usually brought about a bunch of issues to the population including water scarcity and irrigation for farmland. This sometimes plunged Egypt into extended bouts of hunger.
If you are looking to explore the area, right behind the temple you will find a small chapel. It is tiny and bare and only the door-way of the chamber is decorated with hieroglyphs of a king making sacrificial offerings to ancient Nubian Gods. Another similar chapel is located to the Northeast, which dates all the way back to the reign of Ptolemy IX. It was never completed, so its exterior also remains bare, with no decoration or ornamentation. However, the interior is a different story. Upon entering the chapel you will find illustrations of a number of gods and goddesses, including Isis, Osiris, Horus, Mandulis and Khum.
On the same island where the temple is located, some tourists also pay a visit to the Gerf Hussein and Beit el-Wali. These are both temples commissioned to the great king Ramses II. The first temple also was rescued from the flooding waters of the Aswan High Dam and put back together. The second temple is a marvel to see as it has very interesting and vivid paintings dating back thousands of years.
Also in the same vicinity is the Kiosk of Qertassi, which is a beautiful monument made in Roman style that is still standing today with its six original columns. This whole area is full of amazing treasures and ancient marvels, so make sure to plan before visiting, so you can get the most out of the trip and visit as many monuments as you can. Do some research to visit lesser known temples like that of Kalabsha and you will not regret it, even if it falls off the typical tourist map.